It is easy to spot signs of toxic behavior if they are violent or abusive, but there are some that more subtle.
People who resort to emotional manipulation in their relationships often use it intending to seize power and establish a dynamic that benefits them–either emotional or mental.
Regardless of their intentions, people with toxic behaviors leave you feeling emotionally drained, distressed, and sometimes questioning your judgment and choices.
Below are eight signs of toxic behaviors.
- They try to maintain the advantage.
Those who create toxic relationships typically try to maintain the upper hand through various tactics like gaslighting or probing.
One of the common ways an emotional manipulator may try to get an advantage is by keeping arguments and discussions on their turf. Their turf could be a coffee shop or an office, but it could also be an emotional or intellectual turf–something they know well. In doing so, they retain an advantage in the power dynamic of your relationship.
Another tactic used to maintain advantage is gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that makes you not trust your own emotions. Gaslighters make you question your judgment by dismissing, downplaying, or questioning your needs.
Some examples are:
- “I only did it because I love you.” (using love as an excuse)
- “I didn’t cheat! You are imagining things.” (deflecting)
These examples are just a few ways gaslighting, but it can also appear in the form of punishment, isolation, and narcissism.
Another tactic someone who may want to manipulate you uses is probing. That person will ask you seemingly innocuous questions about you and your life. Typically, they appear vulnerable and encourage you to be vulnerable with them. They may also make you feel special from the rest. However, later on, they weaponize your insecurities against you to get you to do what they want.
- They alter facts.
Another form of toxic behavior is lying. Yes, we all lie. But what matters, after the lie you just told, is the intention. Typically, emotional manipulators have bad intentions. Hence, they might resort to lying by exaggerating an event or minimizing their role in a conflict to appear vulnerable to gain your sympathy.
Though you should not approach people with such cynicism, you should be wary of those you feel are trying to take advantage of you.
- They undermine your intelligence.
Another sign of toxic behavior is when someone undermines your intelligence. A great example is mansplaining. We, women, have experienced or are aware of mansplaining. Whether they deliberately intended to question your intelligence or not, the feeling of being treated as though your thoughts are not good enough is hurtful.
Another way a toxic person can undermine your intelligence is by overwhelming you with jargon to impose their intelligence upon you. Financial institutions and sales typically use this intimidation tactic.
Some examples are:
- I would not expect you to know this, but…
- This might be over your head…
- This might be a lot for you to grasp, so I’ll explain it again really slowly.
- They assassinate your character.
Another subtle toxic behavior is character assassination. According to Merriam-Webster, character assassination is the slandering of a person to destroy public confidence in that person.
An emotionally abusive person may resort to character assassination to make you depend or rely on them more. They will divulge personal information about you to others and feign innocence if accused.
- They make you feel bad for voicing your concerns.
A red flag for toxic behavior is if someone makes you feel guilty for voicing your concerns. In a healthy relationship, you should never feel bad for expressing your concerns or needs. Relationships are not one-sided.
A notable characteristic of this behavior is they try to diminish your concerns. The other person may react aggressively or try to make you feel guilty whenever you voice your concerns in the form of a question or suggestion.
- They diminish your problems and play up their own.
In a past article, I discussed toxic positivity, and it certainly plays a role in relationships.
Someone who seeks to manipulate you emotionally will try to undermine your emotions. Some examples are:
- Do you think that’s bad? You don’t have to deal…
- You should be grateful for X event, unlike me…
The common thread in these examples is that they shift the focus away from you and onto them–signaling that their experience and emotions are a priority.
- They act like a martyr.
Another behavior that is toxic and can erode relationships is when martyrdom. History often depicts martyrs as heroic and determined. Just look at Joan of Arc and most of the saints. They are seen as strong individuals who stood up for their beliefs. However, acting like a martyr in a relationship can end up ruining it.
A martyr complex harms relationships because it removes responsibility from one person onto another, thus creating an imbalance. They may complain and whine in a way that elicits pity so that you may eventually take on their work.
Some examples are:
- I know I said I would help, but what you tasked me with is just so difficult.
- This is so much harder than it looks. Did you know it was going to be this difficult?
Over time, their behavior can make you feel overwhelmed and emotionally compromised while causing them to feel guilty or ashamed.
Thankfully, there are many ways to handle toxic behavior. One, take accountability for your actions. Two set boundaries, and three, try not to engage by one-upping them. Most of the time, you will not get an apology, but you can apologize for your part. If you messed up or hurt someone else, apologize. Make a direct apology and move on.
Setting boundaries will help you move one from that relationship. It will help you prioritize your needs and focus on your growth and betterment, which might require you to leave behind relationships that did not nor will serve you in the future. . The best piece of advice is to hold on to your boundaries.
Lastly, if you find yourself too entangled with someone toxic in your life, seek the help of a licensed professional for assistance and guidance.
Best of luck with your future relationships, and take care!
Holland, K., & Legg, T. J. (2018, February 13). How to Recognize the Signs of Emotional Manipulation and What to Do. healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/emotional-manipulation.
Kim, J. (2020, June 10). 5 Non-Obvious Signs Your Relationship Is Toxic. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-angry-therapist/202006/5-non-obvious-signs-your-relationship-is-toxic.
Pannell, R. (2014, December 22). How to Survive a Character Assassination. HuffPost Canada. https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/ryan-pannell/character-assassination_b_6017046.html.
Sarkis, S. M. (2017, January 22). 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting.
Stosny, S. (2015, June 10). What Drives Emotional Abuse in Relationships. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201506/what-drives-emotional-abuse-in-relationships.